On the second and final day of his State visit to Lithuania President Shimon Peres, escorted by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, visited what is known as the Valley of Slaughter – the Ponar forest where some 100,000 Jews, gypsies, members of the Polish intelligentsia and some Soviet prisoners were mercilessly killed by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators.
Approximately 70,000 of the murdered victims were Jews, who following the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto had been brought to the Ponar forest to be killed.
Immediately after the official addresses to the large crowd who included Holocaust survivors and leading figures from the Jewish community headed by Chief Rabbi Chaim Burstein, who gathered by the monument at the entrance to the forest, Peres and Grybauskaite entered the forest accompanied by Holocaust survivor Fania Kalinski. They stopped at the edge of the gorge into which the dead had fallen after being shot.
Kalinski, who lost all of her family during these atrocities, relived the horrors of the period as she related the story of her family to the two Presidents. Peres recited Kaddish in memory of the victims, and as is customary in Jewish tradition placed a stone on the site as a mark of respect.
In his address prior to entering the forest, Peres had remarked on the pastoral scene surrounding them in which everything in nature was green, except for the soil "which is stained with blood" he said speaking symbolically. The killings in Ponar were not via the gas chambers, he said. They were direct, cold, pre-meditated murder, with the killers squeezing the triggers of their guns again and again and again. There were 500 slaughters a day, day after day, after day without let-up without remorse, without a second thought, without a thought at all. History had never known such savagery, he said.
Nothing that would identify the dead remains, Peres noted. "Only their spirit remains with us". It was the second time within a three day period that Peres had attended a memorial ceremony for tens of thousands of Jews murdered in the Holocaust, and the emotion of it all weighed heavily on him. The earlier ceremony had been in Latvia. Members of his own family had been murdered in a region not all that far away. "Ponar is a warning to us all and to generations to come," he said. "Never again…"